What is the tone in the poem "Mending Wall" by Robert Frost?

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As another educator has mentioned, Frost employs a few tones as he progresses through this poem. However, if I had to label the entire message of the poem with a singular tone, I'd go with reflective.

Much of the poem is presented as a question through an easy, conversational use of language. The speaker notes that he participates in this ritual of mending a broken wall each spring, but he isn't quite sure what he and his neighbor are trying to keep in or keep out. After all, his neighbor's property is covered in pine trees, and his own is full of apple trees; he even tells the neighbor that it isn't like his apples are going to run over and eat the pine cones.

Yet the neighbor continues on with the work, intent on repairing each stone which has fallen. Why? What is the point of this repetitive work?

In the end, the speaker notes that his neighbor believes in the traditions of his own father and of the adage he has heard: Good fences make good neighbors. He isn't likely to change it because he "likes having thought of it so well." So here they are, completing their yearly task whose only purpose is to physically divide them so that they can be better neighbors.

And that's a great irony that the speaker reaches through his reflections. Is it human nature that we must create divisions in order to get along well with others? It's a question that the speaker never finds an answer to in this poem, but his reflective tone creates much the same response in the reader.

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A couple of distinctive features in Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” give us a clue about its tone. One of these features is Frost’s twisted but rich syntax, as we can see in the poem’s opening lines:

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it

The other unusual aspect of the poem is that it frequently poses riddles and questions but leaves them unanswered. The poet puzzles over the boulders of his boundary wall toppling over repeatedly, almost of their own volition. But exactly, what is the “something” that won’t allow the stones to stay put? Frost doesn’t tell us.

Because of the idiosyncratic, roundabout syntax, and the questions raised in the poem, its tone is inquisitive, though tempered with humor, mischief, and gentleness. More than the poet, his neighbor is bothered by the shifty wall between their estates, often spouting the platitude:

Good fences make good neighbors

The poet questions this cliche, but he does not judge his neighbor too harshly for partaking in it. Mischievously, he wonders if he should put the idea in the neighbor’s head that it is the “elves” who are taking down the wall. Yet, he does not do so, wanting the neighbor to come up with such subversive notions himself. Thus, though the poet disagrees with the neighbor, he does not wish to control his thoughts. His tone is one of quiet acceptance.

Further, although the poet can see that the neighbor is like an “old stone-savage armed,” or set in his limited way of thinking, he acknowledges that the neighbor is pleased with his own thought process:

And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

Therefore, at a deeper level, the poem’s mood is one of co-existence. To fight with a narrow-minded neighbor would be propagating another cliche, which the poet is loathe to do. His tone towards the wall—which, it should be noted, he keeps mending alongside the neighbor every spring—is of playful forbearance.

Finally, walls such as the one in the poem, do exist in the world, like arbitrary political boundaries. Though the poet questions their purpose, he plays along with their illusion, hoping one day his neighbor too will see they don't need a boundary wall to keep the apple trees of one eating the pine cones of the other! Thus, the poem's tone is also that of allegory, where the wall could stand for a border between countries. Are such borders necessary, or do they create an atmosphere of alienation and suspicion? The poet leaves us with an important question.

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To determine the speaker’s tone in Robert Frost’s "Mending Wall," it is best to examine the diction (word choice) and imagery (sensory language).

"Doesn’t love," "spills," and "gaps" in the first section of the poem all have a negative connotation. This shows that the speaker may believe it is a nuisance that the wall must be mended every spring.

The speaker then describes how he and his neighbor "keep the wall between [them] as [they] go," trying to rebalance boulders, which he describes as "loaves" and "balls." The phrasing and imagery in these examples shows that the pair collaborate to fix the wall, but they remain separated the entire time. Paired with the earlier diction, this could suggest that the speaker doesn’t want to work with other people and would prefer to be alone.

However, the tone changes with the line that begins, "Spring is the mischief in me." The speaker wonders if he could convince his neighbor that they do not need the fence at all. He says to his neighbor that it might be good to ponder what he is "walling in or walling out" before saying that fences "make good neighbors." These examples of diction show that the speaker actually thinks his neighbor—and maybe even himself—is silly to think he needs a physical barrier to enforce his mental one.

In the final section of the poem, the speaker describes the neighbor as "an old-stone savage armed," which indicates that the neighbor is set in his ways and perhaps hostile to the speaker's ideas. When the neighbor repeats his mantra about fences again, the speaker assumes a wary tone toward both the fence and his neighbor, who is unwilling to go against tradition.

Ultimately, the shifting tone of the poem reflects Frost's message that certain traditions should be questioned and only serve to isolate us from one another.

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